09:29
TED2016

Franz Freudenthal: A new way to heal hearts without surgery

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At the intersection of medical invention and indigenous culture, pediatric cardiologist Franz Freudenthal mends holes in the hearts of children across the world, using a device born from traditional Bolivian loom weaving. "The most complex problems in our time," he says, "can be solved with simple techniques, if we are able to dream."

- Pediatric cardiologist
With his unique inventions (including a device knitted from threads of high-tech alloy by indigenous craftswomen), Franz Freudenthal saves children from congenital heart defects. Full bio

The most complex problems in our time
00:12
can be solved with simple techniques,
00:16
if we are able to dream.
00:19
As a child, I discovered
that creativity is the key
00:22
to cross from dreams to reality.
00:27
I learned this from my grandmother,
00:33
Dr. Ruth Tichauer,
00:35
a Jewish refugee that settled
in the heart of the Andes.
00:38
That is how I grew up:
00:43
encouraged to see beyond any limitation.
00:46
So part of my education
included helping her
00:50
in remote, indigenous communities.
00:54
I cherish those memories,
00:57
because they helped me
to understand life outside the city,
01:00
a life with a lot of possibilities,
01:07
without barriers, as language or culture.
01:10
During those trips, my grandmother
used to recite a Kipling poem:
01:13
"Something hidden. Go and find it.
01:18
Go and look behind the Mountains.
01:22
Something lost behind the mountains.
01:24
Lost and waiting for you. Go!"
01:28
In the coming years,
I became a medical student.
01:33
One of every hundred
children born worldwide
01:38
has some kind of heart disease.
01:43
There's a part of this problem
I think I can solve --
01:47
the part of this problem
I have spent my life working on.
01:52
The problem starts
01:59
during pregnancy.
02:02
The fetus needs to survive
inside the mother.
02:04
Survival depends on communication
02:08
between the systemic
and the pulmonary blood.
02:13
At the moment of birth,
02:16
this communication needs to stop.
02:19
If it doesn't close, the baby
has a hole in the heart.
02:22
It is caused by prematurity
and genetic conditions.
02:27
But what we know today
02:32
is that a lack of oxygen
is also one of the causes.
02:35
As you can see in the chart,
02:41
the frequency of this kind of hole
02:43
dramatically increases with altitude.
02:48
Video: (Baby crying)
02:52
When you look at patients
with this condition,
02:56
they seem desperate to breathe.
02:59
To close the hole, major surgery
used to be the only solution.
03:02
One night, my friend Malte,
were camping in the Amazon region.
03:08
The only thing that would not burn
in the fire was a green avocado branch.
03:14
Then came a moment of inspiration.
03:21
So we used the branch as a mold
for our first invention.
03:24
The holes in children's hearts
can be closed with it.
03:29
A coil is a piece of wire
wrapped onto itself.
03:32
It maybe doesn't look so fancy to you now,
03:37
but that was our first successful attempt
03:40
to create a device for this major problem.
03:44
In this video, we can see
how a very tiny catheter
03:49
takes the coil to the heart.
03:52
The coil then closes the hole.
03:55
After that moment of inspiration,
03:57
there came a very long time of effort
04:00
developing a prototype.
04:06
In vitro and in vivo studies took
thousands of hours of work in the lab.
04:08
The coil, if it works, can save lives.
04:15
I returned from Germany to Bolivia,
04:20
thinking that wherever we go,
04:22
we have the opportunity
to make a difference.
04:25
With my wife and partner,
Dr. Alexandra Heath,
04:29
we started to see patients.
04:33
After successfully treating
patients with our coil,
04:35
we felt really enthusiastic.
04:39
But we live in a place
04:42
that is 12,000 feet high.
04:46
And,
04:51
the patients there need a special device
to solve their heart condition.
04:54
The hole in altitude
patients is different,
04:59
because the orifice
between the arteries is larger.
05:02
Most patients cannot afford
to be treated on time,
05:06
and they die.
05:11
The first coil could successfully treat
05:13
only half of the patients in Bolivia.
05:17
The search started again.
05:23
We went back to the drawing board.
05:26
After many trials,
05:31
and with the help of my grandmother's
indigenous friends in the mountains,
05:33
we obtained a new device.
05:38
For centuries, indigenous women
told stories by weaving complex patterns
05:40
on looms,
05:46
and an unexpected skill
helped us for the new device.
05:48
We take this traditional method of weaving
05:53
and make a design made by a smart material
05:56
that records shape.
06:00
It seems this time,
06:03
the weaving allows us
to create a seamless device
06:05
that doesn't rust
06:10
because it's made of only one piece.
06:13
It can change by itself
into very complex structures
06:17
by a procedure that took
decades to develop.
06:21
As you can see, the device enters the body
06:26
through the natural channels.
06:29
Doctors have only to close
the catheter through the hole.
06:32
Our device expands, places itself
06:36
and closes the hole.
06:38
We have this beautiful delivery system
06:42
that is so simple to use
06:45
because it works by itself.
06:47
No open surgery was necessary.
06:50
(Applause)
06:55
As doctors, we fight with diseases
07:04
that take a long time
and effort to heal -- if they do.
07:06
This is the child from before,
07:11
after the procedure.
07:14
As you can see --
07:15
(Applause)
07:17
As you can see,
once the device is in place,
07:22
the patient is 100 percent healed.
07:25
From start to finish,
07:28
the whole procedure takes only 30 minutes.
07:30
That's very rewarding from the medical
and human point of view.
07:35
We are so proud that some
of our former patients
07:40
are part of our team --
07:47
a team, thanks to added close interaction
07:50
with patients that work with us.
07:54
Together, we have only one idea:
07:57
the best solutions need to be simple.
08:01
We lost the fear
of creating something new.
08:05
The path, it's not easy.
08:09
Many obstacles arise all the time.
08:12
But we receive strength from our patients.
08:15
Their resilience and courage
08:19
inspire our creativity.
08:24
Our goal is to make sure
08:27
that no child is left behind,
08:30
not because of cost or access.
08:34
So we have to start a foundation
08:39
with a one-to-one model.
08:42
We will give one device for free
08:45
to make sure that every child is treated.
08:49
We are in many countries now,
08:53
but we need to be everywhere.
08:56
This whole thing began
09:00
with one impossible idea
09:03
as will continue it, really:
09:06
No child is left behind.
09:10
Muchas gracias.
09:15
(Applause)
09:17

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About the Speaker:

Franz Freudenthal - Pediatric cardiologist
With his unique inventions (including a device knitted from threads of high-tech alloy by indigenous craftswomen), Franz Freudenthal saves children from congenital heart defects.

Why you should listen

In his quest to understand the complexities of congenital heart disease, Bolivian-German physician and inventor Franz Freudenthal creates and produces sophisticated devices aimed at improving the lives of patients, especially children that will carry this device inside their heart for the rest of their lives.

His most heralded invention, the Nit Occlud, closes a hole in the heart or arteries and restores basic heart functionality. Freudenthal works with top scientists and universities from Europe and North and South America; however, his heart is in Bolivia, where he works with a team of engineers and highly skilled laborers and dreams of healthy children.

More profile about the speaker
Franz Freudenthal | Speaker | TED.com